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Furious Supreme Court Rejects Patanjali Ayurved’s Second Apology

Furious Supreme Court Rejects Patanjali Ayurved’s Second Apology

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Apr 10: A furious Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to accept a second round of apologies from self-styled yoga guru Baba Ramdev, Patanjali Ayurved Limited, and its managing director Acharya Balkrishna in a contempt case, flagging concern about the companies manufacturing Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) playing with the health of the gullible public while government fails to crack the whip.

Rejecting another set of apologies filed by Patanjali founders Ramdev and Balkrishna for the company’s misleading ads, the Supreme Court said “we are not blind” and that “it does not want to be generous” in this case. The court tore into the Uttarakhand licensing authority for not acting against Patanjali for so long, and also noted that it is not satisfied with the Centre’s reply in the matter.

“The victim is always the public. We are concerned with all those FMCG companies who are taking their consumers and clients up and down the garden path, showing them very rosy pictures about what their products can do for them. People who pay good money for these products finally end up suffering at the cost of their health… That is absolutely unacceptable,” Justice Hima Kohli observed.

The Bench, also comprising Justice Ahsanuddin Amanullah, said the objectionable and misleading advertisements by Patanjali Ayurved to cure everything from diabetes and obesity to liver dysfunction, and even COVID-19 during the months of the pandemic, were “deliberate and wilful violations” of the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act of 1954 and its Rules.

“The apology is on paper. Their back is against the wall. We decline to accept this, we consider it a deliberate violation of undertaking,” the bench of Justice Hima Kohli and Justice A Amanullah said.

At the beginning of the proceedings, the bench noted that Ramdev and Balkrishna sent their apologies to the media first. “Till the matter hit the court, the contemnors did not find it fit to send us the affidavits. They sent it to the media first, till 7.30 pm yesterday it was not uploaded for us. They believe in publicity clearly,” Justice Kohli said.

Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Patanjali founders, said he cannot speak for the registry and that the apologies had been served. As he read out the affidavits, Justice Amanullah said, “You are defrauding the affidavit. Who drafted it, I am surprised.” Mr Rohatgi said there was a “lapse,” to which the court replied, “very small word.”

Justice Amanullah asked if the apology was “even heartfelt.” “What else needs to be said, my lords, we will. He is not (a) professional litigant. People make mistakes in life,” Mr Rohatgi replied. “Even after our orders? Tendering apology is not enough. You should suffer the consequences for violating the court’s order. We do not want to be generous in this case,” he said.

The apex court initiated contempt proceedings against Patanjali Ayurved and Mr Balkrishna on February 27 for violating an undertaking given to it in November 2023 that they would refrain from advertising “cures” in violation of the 1954 Act. On November 21, the apex court had directed the company to not make any “casual statements” to the print or electronic media about the efficacy of their medicinal products or indulge in any disparaging statements about other disciplines of medicine, including allopathy. However, the very next day, Baba Ramdev had held a press conference.

“We are thinking, why we should not treat your apology with the same disdain in which you treated the undertaking given to this court?” Justice Kohli addressed senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the proposed contemnors. Justice Amanullah remarked the apology came from the trio only after “the writing was plain on the wall.”

Justice Kohli said their conduct, when faced with contempt action, changed from hubris to abject surrender when they found themselves cornered. In its order, the court recorded that the contemnors, Mr Ramdev and Mr Balkrishna, had tried to “wriggle out” of personally appearing in the apex court.

Justice Amanullah said it was conduct like this that made a mockery of the Supreme Court, with the public claiming that judges were sitting in an ivory tower. The court made it clear that it would direct action against every person or authority who had broken the law, without mercy.

The court said a message needs to go out to the society at large. “(This is) not just about one FMCG but violation of the law. Look at your replies to state authority when they asked you to withdraw, you said HC said no coercive steps against us. We are making it a part of your conduct, (the) larger picture is your conduct with the public at large but saying it is in good faith.”

The court then turned to the Uttarakhand government and questioned why licensing inspectors did not act and that three officers should be suspended at once. The court said the state’s officers had done nothing. “We have strong objection to the use of the word ‘bonafide’ for officers. We are not going to take (it) lightly. We will rip you apart,” it said, saying that officers were just “pushing files.”

“In 2021, the ministry wrote to the Uttarakhand licensing authority against a misleading advertisement. In response, the company gave a response to the licensing authority. However, the authority let off the company with a warning. The 1954 Act does not provide for warning and there is no provision for compounding the offence,” the court said.

“This has happened six times, back and forth back and forth, the licensing inspector remained quiet. There is no report by the officer. The person appointed subsequently acted the same way. All those three officers should be suspended right now,” it said, adding that the licensing authority was “in cahoots with the contemnors.”

The bench said the Supreme Court was being mocked. “You are acting like a post office. Did you take legal advice? Shameful of you,” it told the state counsel. “Why don’t we agree that you are hand-in-glove with Patanjali,” the court asked the authority, adding, “you have being playing with people’s life.”

Upset by what it sees as insincere apologies from the company and its founders – zeroed in on Dr Mithilesh Kumar, the Joint Director of the state’s Food and Drug Administration, who at one point begged, with folded hands, for mercy. “Please spare me…” Dr Kumar said to the court, “I came in June 2023… this happened before me.”

The court, however, would not relent. “Why should we? How did you have the guts to do this? What action did you take?” Justice Kohli asked. “One man seeks mercy (but) what about innocent people who took these medicines?”

The court – which minutes earlier also fiercely censured Patanjali Ayurved and co-founders Baba Ramdev and Acharya Balkrishna, for repeatedly violating its orders and filing improper affidavits – showed little sympathy for the official or the drug licensing authority, and suspended three of its officers.

When the Uttarakhand counsel told the court that they will take action, Justice Kohli remarked, “Thank God, now you have woken up at last and realise that there is a statute existing.”

“What about all the faceless people who have consumed these Patanjali medicines stated to cure diseases which cannot be cured. Can you do this to an ordinary person?” the court said. The licensing authority apologised to the court and assured that they will surely act in the matter.

Refocusing its ire on Dr Kumar, the court asked him why he failed to take legal advice when presented with the Health Ministry’s notice. “Did you read the law? Do you think a warning was enough? What is the provision in this law? What case did you file? What steps did you take?”

“You twiddled your thumbs… Why should we not come down like a ton of bricks on your officers? They have been filibustering… You were in deep slumber from 2018, when the first complaint came about their products, to 2024,” Justice Kohli told a senior official from the Uttarakhand State Licensing Authority who was present in the courtroom.

“We will register (now)…” the beleaguered officer said. “No… now you just sit at home for a few days. Or you can sit in office and write letters. You are playing with the public’s health!” the court responded curtly.

The Supreme Court then said Ramdev and Balkrishna tried to wriggle out of physical appearance in court and said they were travelling abroad. The state licensing authority, it noted, was in “deep slumber” and the “disdain” shown by Divya pharmacy to the warnings of state authority is “apparent from tone and tenor of the reply.”

The court directed the State Licensing Authority officers-in-charge, the present one and his predecessor, to file detailed affidavits on why action had not been taken against Patanjali Ayurved under the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act.

It further directed all the officers who had served as District Ayurvedic and Unani Officers, Haridwar, from the period between 2018 to 2024, to file affidavits explaining their inaction against Patanjali Ayurved under the law. The court has listed this part of the case on April 23 while it said it would pass its order on Baba Ramdev and Mr Balkrishna on April 16.

Wednesday’s blistering takedown of the state drug authority comes a week after Patanjali Ayurved’s co-founders were slammed for “absolute defiance” of the highest court in the land. Justices Kohli and Amanullah also posed serious questions to the centre’s AYUSH Ministry, demanding to know why it had not acted against the company after its “shocking” ads that belittled contemporary medicine.

In February, the court had also taken the Centre to task for “sitting with eyes closed.” The court was hearing a contempt case against Patanjali over publication of advertisements making false claims about its products and their medical efficacy. On February 27 the court had directed Patanjali to stop all electronic and print ads giving misleading information, with immediate effect.

The Patanjali co-founders had filed an affidavit agreeing to do so, but it was claimed that ads making such claims continued to be published. The entire case began last year after the Indian Medical Association filed a petition claiming a smear campaign by Baba Ramdev against the Covid vaccination drive and modern medicine.

In its affidavit, the Centre responded that the Interdisciplinary Technical Review Committee for COVID-19 had raised “ethical concerns,” and recommended in its report in December 2020 that Patanjali Ayurved’s ‘Coronil’ “may be used as a supporting measure for COVID-19 without claiming cure.”




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